Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Make student performance -- not teacher protectionism -- the top priority

Amber Arellano is an insightful education columnist for the Detroit News. It's purely conincidental that I'm writing two consecutive posts about her work; this post is actually about a rebuttal written to one of her articles.

She wrote a great article in early September:

Detroit News: Unionism needs to get rid of the stupid and get more the smart (09/08/09)

Arellano writes about ongoing teacher contract negotiations between Robert Bobb (the State Appointed Emergency Financial Manager assigned to sort out the Detroit Public Schools mess) and the Detroit Federation of Teachers (a unit of the AFT – American Federation of Teachers).

Arellano begins by discussing why she believe unions have been – and remain – an important element, and stresses the premise that “together we are stronger than we are individually”.

She then goes on to say, “The Bobb administration must get a contract that makes student performance -- not teacher protectionism -- its top priority. Bobb's team needs flexibility to staff classrooms with the best educators available. Poor children who have already fallen behind in school need better or just as good teachers as Birmingham and Ann Arbor have yet so often, research shows, they get the worst.

Can anyone, really, defend that morally unacceptable status quo?”

Keith Johnson, President of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, can and does.

Detroit News: Rebuttal: Don't eliminate teacher seniority (09/22/09)

I wanted to include this exchange because it shows the tremendous challenges facing anyone who attempts improve schools. I don’t share Arellano’s perspective on unions and their role, but I absolutely believe her piece was respectful and professional, and it covered a topic that merits reasonable discussion.

A defensive and bitter Keith Johnson stands in stark contrast.

If he is comfortable launching such a virulent public response towards someone offering an opinion, can you imagine what it must be like at negotiating sessions?

In his response, Johnson takes aim at the Arellano, jumping from point to point, sniping, without offering a rebuttal of the issues.

He appears to acknowledge that “poor proficiency of our students on standardized tests, the exaggerated dropout rate, the less-than-stellar graduation rate and other factors that plague Detroit schools” is a problem. Yet it’s a problem he attributes entirely to parents and the students themselves, with the schools sharing none of the blame.

He is disturbed by the comment, “Poor children who have already fallen behind in school need better or just as good teachers as Birmingham and Ann Arbor have yet so often, research shows, they get the worst.”

Yet Johnson doesn’t question the research on which Arellano based her comment. He doesn’t cite statistics – or any information for that matter – which refutes her statements.

Regarding teacher quality, he doesn’t even offer the traditional, dismissive brush-off that “there might be a few bad apples”.

And therein lies the problem. I’ve heard the arguments supporting seniority and tenure plenty of times, and they’re generally based on the premise that every teacher is equally great, and every administrator/principal is an idiot.

None are better teachers than others, and certainly none are worse.

Union supporters argue that they too believe bad teachers should be dismissed, but if they aren’t, then it’s the lazy principal’s fault. Perhaps.

But in their effort to ensure “due process”, union contracts and tenure laws go too far. Don’t believe me?
Check out the blog post I made last year about a teacher that gave students test answers – BEFORE THE TEST – and the subsequent hoops that district had to jump through, in order to remove the teacher from the classroom.

Arellano was not trying to attack teachers in any way whatsoever. Her point is that Detroit – like every school district for that matter – requires greater flexibility in order to assign, hire, and yes even dismiss teachers based on proven skills, in order to best meet children’s instructional needs.

Sadly, this is a non-starter for teacher unions, who believe that the number of times a teacher has punched the time clock
is a better criterion for classroom assignments, and is a perfectly acceptable measurement of quality.

Johnson adds that seniority is necessary because teachers need protection from racist principals who cannot make competent decisions, nor tolerate reasonable and constructive criticism.

Even playing the race-card doesn’t bolster his arguments. Johnson fails to consider the likelihood that Arrellano would probably agree that incompetent, egomaniacal, racist principals should also be weeded-out.

Johnson could’ve used this opportunity to make a stronger point about the need to make parents a partner in education. He could’ve found a better way to support the notion that principals must also be held accountable. But by completely dodging the discussion about teacher quality, he shows that he is part of the problem, not part of the solution.

==> Mike.

I've pasted the articles below, in case the links don't work.

Unionism needs to get rid of the stupid and get more of the smart


I grew up in an union town where good people understood that they were stronger together than they were as individuals when it came to affecting change in the American political arena and elsewhere.

The United Auto Workers gave many in my family, mostly first-generation Mexican-Americans who worked in Pontiac's auto plants, a stake in America, a sense of belonging and a movement through which their aspirations and experiences could be struggled for and heard as a collective voice in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere.

Those roots, of which I am proud, make me incredibly grateful for unionism and the progress it's made for so many Americans.

But I cannot take any more stupid unionism.

When I say stupid, I mean unionism led by fear and selfish interests living in the past.

This fall some of Michigan's most powerful unionists have the opportunity to stop practicing stupid unionism.

I refer to the Detroit Federation of Teachers union, which is in heated negotiations with the Detroit Public Schools' Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb over the future of thousands of underserved Detroit students.

Detroit children are some of the poorest, most vulnerable children in North America. It is gut-wrenching to watch as the school district squanders their lives by providing them substandard schools.

To be sure, teachers are not the heart of this district's problems. Just take a look at the dysfunctional school board and its predatory practices, and that is clear.

However, the teachers are the heart of the district's way forward. Teacher quality is the No. 1 predictor of student achievement. Southeastern Michigan's future is partly tied to Detroit's educational success -- and teachers will lead it or take us down with them and their failing district.

That's why no one should underestimate this teacher contract's importance. The Bobb administration must get a contract that makes student performance -- not teacher protectionism -- its top priority.

Bobb's team needs flexibility to staff classrooms with the best educators available. Poor children who have already fallen behind in school need better or just as good teachers as Birmingham and Ann Arbor have yet so often, research shows, they get the worst.

Can anyone, really, defend that morally unacceptable status quo?

Smart unionism

Now some will defend all unions. More will attack unions, arguing that the U.S. should kill them off.

An America without unions is a scary idea. Just ask anyone whose company is hemorrhaging jobs and whose child is sick and needs health care. The only reason why many Americans still have things such as health insurance, eight-hour work days and unemployment is because of unions. And globalization challenges us to consider these issues anew.

Consider a new report, released appropriately on Labor Day, by the Michigan League for Human Services. It found that one in every five Michigan jobs do not pay enough to keep a family of four out of poverty -- about $22,000 a year.

Four of the six occupations with the most jobs fall into that category. Those are retail sales, cashiers, waiters and waitresses, and fast food or food prep workers.

"We know that many of these jobs are held by breadwinners -- not just students or teen-agers. A parent working full-time, year-round should be able to meet basic needs, but these very common jobs do not allow that," said Sharon Parks, the league's president and CEO.

The standard argument -- with which I agree -- is that in a new era of globalization, such lower-wage service workers have to retrain and retool for higher-skilled jobs.

There is another, darker side to the globalization story, however: The U.S. isn't creating enough good jobs to replace its faltering middle class. And many of the jobs we do create have lousy wages.

For that reason, we need a smart unionism that will help our country enact public policies that rebuild the middle class and people who want to be in it -- and kill off the old unionism that is dragging down so many good workers and school children with it.

Amber Arellano is a Detroit News editorial writer who writes a weekly online column. Contact her at">

Rebuttal: Don't eliminate teacher seniority

Just as sure as schoolchildren return to class the day after Labor Day, The Detroit News can be counted on to launch an unwarranted attack upon Detroit's teachers and their union, the Detroit Federation of Teachers. In her Sept. 8 column ("Unionism needs to get rid of the stupid and get more of the smart"), Amber Arellano wrote that "Detroit's children should get the best teachers like Ann Arbor and Birmingham, yet research shows they get the worst."

It is fashionable to attack the ability and competency of teachers in Detroit because of the poor proficiency of our students on standardized tests, the exaggerated dropout rate, the less-than-stellar graduation rate and other factors that plague Detroit schools.

However, it seems to be taboo to hold students responsible for coming to school and parents accountable for getting them there. Why don't people like Arellano speak out against the violence rendered by students against their peers and their teachers? Why isn't there an outcry about the high level of student transiency and truancy and their adverse effect upon student achievement?

Instead, Arellano calls Detroit's teachers the worst and criticizes the DFT for protecting the rights (not the jobs) of teachers. She attacks the DFT for protecting the seniority rights of teachers, not knowing or caring why seniority is such a sensitive issue.

Perhaps she is not aware that if seniority were eliminated, some teachers would be released because they have the audacity to stand up for children and themselves. They will criticize a principal who does not support the staff on matters of discipline, who plays favorites and misuses valuable district funds, or is never in the building.

Teachers who serve as building representatives or who are active with the union are often vilified by administrators as being obstructionists because they won't do a principal's bidding and be subservient.

Without seniority protection, some teachers would be eliminated, not because they are not doing the job, but because they are white. Yes, in 2009 we have some black administrators who do not believe white teachers should teach black children. Imagine the uproar if a white principal in Howell didn't believe white students should be taught by black teachers.

For Arellano's information, 87 percent of Detroit's teachers have a master's degree or above. Seventy-two percent (more than any other district in the state) have national board certification, and the vast majority of our teachers do more with less and make endless sacrifices on behalf of their students.

The DFT has made a commitment to embrace and implement innovative reform initiatives to drive student achievement. We will not, however, lie down and die so our members can be run over and run out.

Keith Johnson ,
President, Detroit Federation of Teachers


Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Myths of a Stubborn Culture are Debunked

Amber Arellano writes a insightful article about the stubbornness of Michigan’s entrenched educational bureaucrats, and the change-resistant culture that permeates Michigan’s K-12 education

Detroit News: Myths undercut efforts to boost Michigan's high school standards (09/10/09)

It goes on everywhere. I see it in Rochester.

For example, I know that the Rochester Board of Education shows no interest in understanding how many of it’s graduates must take remedial courses – at their own expense – in college, despite the fact that the district receives matriculation reports from some colleges. Individually, I’ve seen the reports that Michigan State University provides to each high school, and have suggested that the board review them, to no avail. This data is notably absent from the district’s so-called strategic plan.

The district could also do more to allow advance the concept of allowing more academically rigorous Personal Curriculums, yet submissively yields to needlessly restrictive interpretations, such as expecting kids to investigate summer school before they allow a modification. Rather that challenge the status quo, the board fell right in line.

I could go on, but I don’t want to distract from Amber’s excellent article.

All of this points to the fundamental flaw in the culture of Michigan educators, which is the myth that our children are simply not up to the challenge.

And it leads to perhaps a fifth myth, which is that there is nothing parents can do to take on the system. I wrote about Rochester parents who last year stood up to the culture of mediocrity and low-expectations by protesting the decision to “round down” students in the advanced math track in middle school. It was a small victory for a small number of children, but it shows that there is hope.

==> Mike.

I’ve pasted below the article in case the link does not work.

September 10, 2009

Myths undercut efforts to boost Michigan's high school standards


This fall at Michigan's colleges, thousands of students are arriving with great expectations -- only to find themselves relegated to paying for high school courses without even receiving college credit. Those courses are called remedial classes, which students have to take because they were so poorly prepared in their K-12 schools.

At Michigan State University, the proportion of incoming freshmen who need remedial classes jumped to 28 percent today from 25 percent last year. At Delta College north of Saginaw, 81 percent of incoming students need remedial classes. That number has grown 3 percent in recent years.

The growth is a sign, some experts say, that Michigan school districts are not taking seriously the implementation of the new high school curriculum that state leaders adopted in 2006 to better prepare students to succeed in the knowledge economy. And it comes as Gov. Jennifer Granholm and state lawmakers fight over whether the tougher curriculum standards should be lowered to accommodate vocational education students and others.

With so much rhetoric, it can be difficult to figure out what is based on proven research and experience, and what isn't. Here are some common myths -- and the real story behind them -- about the high school curriculum.

MYTH No. 1: Only Michigan's lowest-performing school districts, such as Detroit and Pontiac, need to upgrade their high school courses.

FACT: Well-to-do and middle-class districts are under-preparing their children, too.

Take Rockford, the upscale suburban city outside of Grand Rapids
, where most families send their children to four-year universities. What most parents in Rockford don't know: The district's latest state test scores show only 24 percent of its kids are college-ready in all subjects based on ACT indicators, which colleges use for admissions.

That suggests most of those students will have to take remedial classes, a predictor of college failure. A majority of students who need remedial classes do not earn either a bachelor's or an associate's degree, according to Education Policy Center experts at Michigan State University.

Mike Flanagan, state superintendent for schools, saw the same problem when he was in charge of Farmington Schools, a well-heeled suburban Oakland County district.

"People thought our students were doing so well because we sent 90 percent to college," Flanagan says.

Then he learned about half of those graduated from college. The knowledge spurred the district to make major changes.

"If you're sending students to college needing remedial classes, it means you're setting them up for failure not only in college but in the workplace," Flanagan says.

MYTH No. 2: All students have to take the same classes, including Algebra II and other high-level math and science classes, no matter what.

FACT: Vocational teachers and the Michigan Education Association union often call the curriculum a "one size fits all" approach. But state law does not require all students take the same specific courses. Rather, high school credits can be packaged into any course. The law allows flexibility for students who focus on the arts or, say, a trade.

Many parents don't know they can request a personal curriculum in which courses are specially designed for their teens.

Why does this seem to be a secret? Many schools and districts have dragged their feet on implementing the curriculum. Many schools also do not publicize these options.

MYTH No. 3: Michigan's dropout rate will go up under the new curriculum.

FACT: There's no evidence of that. The opposite has been found true in some states.

Arkansas, Arizona, Maryland and Massachusetts are among 25 states that now require Algebra II or equivalent skills learned to graduate, as Michigan does. None of their dropout rates has risen.

That fear arose in Michigan after Derrick Fries, an Eastern Michigan University assistant education professor, told reporters that he anticipated a rise in the dropout rate. However, more academic rigor has been found to raise graduation rates, according to the Education Trust and other researchers.

How could that be? Because boredom is one of the leading causes of dropping out. By making school more challenging, many students stay longer.

MYTH No. 4: Michigan's high school curriculum is one of the nation's toughest.

FACT: Other states are leading in school standards and quality. Indiana, Ohio, Maryland, Virginia and Massachusetts are just some of the states that have higher standards and more demanding high school curriculums than Michigan.

Indiana requires students take chemistry, physics and trigonometry, and more writing and foreign language than Michigan students do.

In Ohio, high-schoolers have to pass a competency test to graduate.

"There would be many high school students in Michigan who could not pass it," says Sharif Shakrani, co-director of Michigan State University's Education Policy Center.

In Maryland, the new high school standards are far tougher than Michigan's. They are modeled after the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the only nationally representative test that compares American students with one another by state.

The Obama administration is calling on states to adopt a common core of standards to make sure the United States better competes in the global economy. It is pushing states to ramp up their schools' curriculums to be modeled after the NAEP.

Already the Detroit Public Schools' new leadership team is adopting a curriculum modeled after the NAEP.

Barbara Byrd-Bennett, its academic chief and a respected national educational leader, says those who think Michigan's state curriculum is too tough are fooling themselves and shortchanging students.

Look at Michigan students' test scores for proof. Only about 30 percent of students are considered proficient under NAEP.

MYTH No. 5: The curriculum was designed for college-bound students -- not kids who aim to go into a trade or directly to the workplace.

FACT: Young people who attend community colleges, technical schools and other universities are actually more likely to be underprepared to succeed in life -- and need higher-skilled classes to make sure they do.

"A lot of people think if your kid is not going to the University of Michigan or Michigan State, then there are no negative consequences for not taking higher-level math and science classes," says Jim Ballard, executive director of the Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals.

"This fight about the curriculum is about the students who go to Delta, to Grand Valley, to community colleges," Ballard adds. "They are the ones who need remedial courses, who are dropping out, who are not finding good jobs."

Even students going directly to entry-level jobs or entering technical schools need higher-level thinking and math skills, researchers have found across the country.

The more math Americans learn, research shows, the more money they earn. Students who take challenging high school courses, especially in math and science, will earn $1 million more than students who do not.

Algebra II, in particular, is a predictor of success in college and in getting a good job in the knowledge economy -- more than race, socioeconomic status or family income.

The Wacker Chemical plant in Adrian is a case in point. Factory leaders found local high school graduates woefully lacking skills to work there a few years ago. They teamed up with school leaders to change that.

"My question to the legislators who want to undermine the math requirements in the state curriculum is: 'What kind of jobs do you want in Michigan? Do you want your children to get good jobs or any job at all? Look at Ohio and see what they're doing,' " MSU's Shakrani says.

"Because that's who we're competing with: Ohio and Indiana. And they are out-competing us in school preparation."

E-mail Amber Arellano at"> or send letters to the editor to"> or mail to Letters, Editorial Page, The Detroit News, 615 W. Lafayette, Detroit, MI 48226.

Additional Facts
Importance of education
Why Michigan's high school curriculum standards are considered critical:

Nine of 10 jobs will require education beyond high school, according to the Michigan Department of Education.

An estimated 80,000 jobs go unfilled in Michigan and an additional 30,940 jobs could go unfilled in the near future, according to a 2007 EPIC/MRA future business study. This indicates Michigan's high rate of unemployment has more to do with a lack of necessary education and training among residents than a lack of employment opportunities.

The state Department of Education finds that 84 percent of those who hold highly paid professional jobs had taken Algebra II or higher as their last high school math course.

The more math you learn, the more money you earn. Students who take challenging high school courses, especially in math and science, will earn more than $1 million more than students receiving a general education, according to the Michigan Department of Education.

Studies indicate there is a strong correlation between increases in average test scores and national economic growth. In country after country, a boost in test performance was linked to a distinct rise in annual per capita gross domestic product growth, according to the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education.

A study by the Michigan League for Human Services and the Economic Policy Institute forecasts a decline in U.S. per-capita personal income if America doesn't educate "all of our students well."


Sunday, September 6, 2009

Obama's Back-to-School Speech... Government Required Viewing?

The Rochester Community Schools district decided not to run President Obama's back-to-school "live", but will instead run it during the high school lunches the next day.

The decision aims to minimize school distruption, and was driven out of respect for parental choice. It was not made based on the anticipated content of the speech, nor was it made on the questionable study guides issued by the White House.

Now that the decision has been made, it should not cause a round of “high-fives” for conservatives, nor should it drive indignant and angry name-calling by liberals. Both camps, quite frankly, need to put ideology aside and try to think of what’s best for children.

And while some argue that the positive message planned for the speech will be lost… that’s simply not true. The address will be widely available, and can still be discussed, even if it’s not viewed “live”. Actually, the fact that it’s not being aired “live” can serve as a teachable moment too, driving discussions about parental rights, civil discourse, protest, and government intervention.

I fully intend to watch it with my children, and encourage other parents to do so as well. But I cannot support the notion that children should be forced to watch it.


The school board was informed of the district’s decision and the underlying rationale. A significant number of parents had expressed concern… enough that showing the address would could potentially disrupt the first day of school. Because it was the first day, there was no effective way to create an “opt-in” or “opt-out” process.

The district had been put in the unenviable position of either disappointing parents by showing it, or disappointing parents by not showing it.

The district – ultimately believing that respect for parental choice trumps everything else – crafted a compromise. The president's address will not interrupt the first day of school, but will be recorded and shown during high school lunch the following day for those students who would like to watch it. And, a link to the address will be posted on the district website.

This reasonable compromise does not mandate that children watch the broadcast, yet it provides an option for doing so.

The only change I see is that children will not see the address live, but will instead watch it with their families (which is better, in my opinion), or they’ll view it the next day.

And for the record… this had nothing to do with political ideology, but was instead based on respect for parents. Let’s be honest here… if it were about ideology alone then it’s most likely that a speech from a liberal president would be shown, regardless of the consequences. Educators and school boards are generally far more liberal than they are conservative, and Rochester is no exception.


TIME magazine offered an interesting view of the underlying dynamics driving this controversy:

TIME: Schools to Big Brother Barack: Stay Out! (09/04/09)

The heart of the battle -- at least in my mind -- is that the administration arguably erred when they started to make this about the President, and not soley about the value of education. (And it's really a shame, because their "study guides" distracted from a good speech. You can read it here.)

From the TIME article:

Thanks in large part to the Administration's ham-handed advance work, the strident conservative anger that erupted this summer over health-care reform has shifted from town halls to school halls. On the surface, Obama's intentions for Tuesday seem nothing more threatening than a presidential pep talk about taking education seriously. But some ill-advised prep material from the Education Department — like suggestions that teachers have students write letters on "how to help the President" and recommendations that those pupils read his books — has left the door ajar (and that's all it seems to take these days) for Republican charges that Obama "wants to indoctrinate our kids," as Clara Dean, GOP chairwoman of Florida's Collier County, puts it.

But if there is one conservative criticism that even liberals can relate to, it's that the speech seems part of this President's overexposure. "Every time you turn around, there he is, there he is, there he is," Dean groused. And lately at least, every time Obama turns around, he seems to give conservatives an opening to pounce on him.

Commentator Mark Steyn drew stronger parallels by comparing it to Iraq. Certainly hyperbolic, but I'm including it because it helps to clearly punctuate the concern. Obama 'Outreach' To School Kids Feels More Like Personality Cult (09/04/09)

In 2003, motoring around western Iraq a few weeks after the regime's fall, when the schoolhouses were hastily taking down the huge portraits of Saddam that had hung on every classroom wall, I visited an elementary-school principal with a huge stack of suddenly empty picture frames piled up on his desk, and nothing to put in them.

The education system's standard first-grade reader featured a couple of kids called Hassan and Amal — a kind of Iraqi Dick and Jane — proudly holding up their portraits of the great man and explaining the benefits of an Iraqi education:

"O come, Hassan," says Amal. "Let us chant for the homeland and use our pens to write, 'Our beloved Saddam.'"

"I come, Amal," says Hassan. "I come in a hurry to chant, 'O, Saddam, our courageous president, we are all soldiers defending the borders for you, carrying weapons and marching to success.'"

Pathetic, right?

On Friday, Aug. 28, the principal of Eagle Bay Elementary School in Farmington, Utah — in the name of "education" — showed her young charges the "Obama Pledge" video released at the time of the inauguration, in which Ashton Kutcher and various other big-time celebrities, two or three of whom you might even recognize, "pledge to be a servant to our president and to all mankind because together we can, together we are, and together we will be the change that we seek."

Altogether now! Let us chant for mankind and use our pens to write, "O beloved Obama, our courageous president, we are all servants defending the hope for you and marching to change."

To accompany President Obama's classroom speech this week, the White House and America's "educators" drafted some accompanying study materials. Children would be invited to write letters to themselves saying what they could do to "help the President."

Certainly everyone does not agree with these perspectives, but enough parents are concerned, and took the time to express those concerns to the district.

And it’s not that those expressing concerns have “hijacked” the district. Schools have a responsibility and obligation to try to honor the reasonable wishes of the communities they serve. When conflicts arise, the district must do what it can to craft compromises.

I don’t believe it’s the school’s job to get itself embroiled in a effort to unconditionally defend the President. Nor do I believe this decision is designed to rebuff or embarrass the President, or “protect” the children from the President. I see this is a non-political attempt to respect diversity and parental choice, and to focus on effectively running schools without disruption.


As is the case with almost anything involving schools, compromise is hard to achieve. I thought I’d share some of arguments I’ve heard on both sides.

INDOCTRINATION: Had the district shown the address live, it would’ve been accused of attempting to indoctrinate children. Really? President Obama can be persuasive, and children may not have fully developed critical thinking skills, but I don’t think a 20-minute speech to the nations youth is going to change our form of government.

RACISM: According to some, the only possible reason that the district decided to “censor” the speech is because of hysterical, right-wing, gun-toting bigotry and racism. If the President were white, the address would have been delivered. This is so incredibly unfounded that I’m not sure how to respond. Is this argument going to be dragged out every time someone questions this President?

HITLER: Both sides are dragging out Hitler/fascism accusations. Hitler brainwashed and controlled the German youth, and this address is Obama’s attempt to do the same. Ironically, the opposite is apparently true as well: by not broadcasting the address live, the district is embracing the book-burning, thought-controlling fascism of Nazi Germany.

HISTORICAL LOSS: Rochester is being accused of denying students a chance to participate in an incredible moment in history. I think the erupting controversy has greatly exaggerated the significance of the address. The President's address to a joint session of Congress the next night is historically significant, but this is not. And while I fully support the ideas and values of hard work and disipline that will reportedly be covered in Obama's back-to-school address, I think the historical significance of this speech is being blown way out of proportion.

DISRESPECT: President Obama is OUR President, and regardless of political beliefs he should be shown respect. By “censoring” or "banning" the speech, the district is being disrespectful. One parent seriously suggested that the district not only mandate the viewing, but the the district "command silence" as it was aired. Opponents counter with the “slippery slope’ argument, which suggests that a precedent is being established for unlimited presidential access to the nations children, thus inviting other politicians -- governors, county executives, or even local mayors -- to expect similar “opportunities” to reach American's youth.

INSPIRATIONAL & UPLIFTING: Why is the district afraid of an uplifting, motivational speech about working hard and staying in school? Let’s set aside the question of how people know exactly what the President will say, and the presumption that he will indeed be inspirational. The premise of this accusation is that the decision about airing the address live was content-based. It simply wasn’t.

UNPRECEDENTED: In 1988, President Ronald Reagan gave an interactive interview to schoolchildren. In 1991, President Bush (41) made a speech at Alice Deal Junior High School, broadcast live on radio and television, urging students to study hard, focus on math and science, avoid drugs and turn in troublemakers. It's asserted that both did so with out objection, so clearly President Obama is a victim of partisan politics. Again, it was respect for parental choice, and not content or party affiliation that drove the decision. But beyond that, Presidents Reagan and Bush most certainly faced plenty of objections from Democrats. Notably, former Democrat House Majority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) was quoted as saying, "The Department of Education should not be producing paid political advertising for the president, it should be helping us to produce smarter students, and the president should be doing more about education than saying, 'Lights, camera, action.' "

INTELLECTUAL COWARDS: By “censoring” the President, Rochester is showing how it is afraid to expose children to different views. Yet, if the district does broadcast the address live, then it is buying into the President’s “infomercial” that is really designed to increase his popularity. Both are quite a stretch, in my opinion. And again, the decision had nothing to do with the content.

In the end, the RCS School Board did not make this decision, but I am comfortable defending the compromise. Children can still watch the address.

Were the district to have made the opposite choice – to air the address live – I would instead need to be defending what could be a substantial disruption of school, as well as the notion that the school was all but forcing children to listen to their president -- perhaps in "commanded silence". I just can’t go there.

==> Mike.


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Keep Parents Empowered!

Read this article:

The Detroit News: Parents, not teachers, should make lifetime decisions on their kids' future (09/01/09)

find your Senator, and send them an email telling them to you want higher standards for your children, and do not want your local school district to water down your child’s education. Tell them the Geiss bill should not be adopted without modification.

When it comes to providing children with the college-prep skills they need to succeed in college, and ultimately our knowledge-based economy, local school boards were simply not getting the job done.

The state legislature created new high school graduation requirements that fill that void.

One of the provisions of the new requirements was an “escape clause”. It recognizes that a presumably small number of students might not be able to fulfill the requirements. Students with severe learning disabilities, for example, might struggle.

As written, the “Personal Curriculum Modification” allows a parent to approach the school and requires a personal curriculum, essentially opting out of the state requirements. It was intended to be a deliberative process, involving the parent, teachers, counselors, and administrators.

While there are good compromise aspects in the legislation, this new Geiss bill would ultimately move the decision making from the parents to the teachers, and that is wrong.

It’s not a question of an individual teacher’s ability to evaluate a child. It’s instead about the institutional power. There are undoubtedly teachers who would make a careful and thoughtful decision, but there are also teachers who would not.

I’ve personally witnessed too many incidents of educators trying to lower the bar for children. Empowering them to unilaterally establish lower expectations is a lifetime sentence, and is a step backwards.

==> Mike.

I’ve pasted below the article in case the link doesn’t work.

Editorial: Parents, not teachers, should make lifetime decisions on their kids' future
The Detroit News

Michigan teachers and lawmakers have debated for more than two years about the state's new high school curriculum. Now Lansing may have developed a sensible compromise bill, but it goes too far by gutting the rights of parents to make life-altering decisions about their children's futures.

The state House passed Rep. Douglas Geiss' bill 4511 last week. It is designed to make it easier for students to obtain permission to take a personal curriculum to graduate from high school. The authors of the original curriculum allowed for any Michigan student to request a personal curriculum out of respect to the diversity of students and their interests.

Current law rightly allows only parents or a legal guardian to request a personal curriculum. Policymakers worried, with good reason, that if teachers had the power to determine a student's high school coursework without a parent's consent, some would abuse it. Teachers who did not want to upgrade their skills and adapt to the new curriculum instead could lobby students to take easier classes -- even though that could be at the student's expense.

Those concerns have proven to be valid. A small but vocal minority of teachers have remained resistant to adopting the state curriculum. Instead many have fought it, arguing they shouldn't have to change despite the fact that more and more Michigan students are poorly prepared to compete for Knowledge Economy jobs.

The Geiss bill, a political compromise, contains some reasonable ideas, including the option of allowing a teacher to help parents develop a personal curriculum for their child.

But the bill goes far too far by allowing teachers to make life-altering decisions for students. No one but parents should determine their child's high school curriculum. The consequences are too far-reaching. What coursework a student takes in high school is a predictor for their success in college, most trades classes and their livelihoods later.

The Senate should make sure this bill does not gut parents' rights. Any compromise should not compromise the future of Michigan's children.